Shipping news: Sun's Blackbox arrives in Australia

Sun's Project Blackbox is a data center stuck inside a water-proof shipping container

It is not every day that an IT company asks its customers to fork over $700,000 for an empty shipping container, but that is exactly what Sun is hoping some of its local customers will do as it showcases its data centre-in-a-box this week, called Project Blackbox.

The company first unveiled the data centre last October at its US headquarters and has since then been traveling the world spruiking the idea, and container, to its customers. Essentially the Blackbox is a 20 foot shipping container that can house any company's IT needs.

Duncan Bennett, Sun's sales director, said the company will display the product to 900 local customers in Sydney and Canberra over the next four days.

He said the product can service a large variety of organisations and verticals. These can be organisations or government departments with remote service facilities, companies that have run out of data centre capacity and seeking temporary capacity, or those seeking interim use, such as for World Cups or the Olympics.

One bank in Asia is considering using the Blackbox as a mobile bank branch, while in Japan the Blackbox has been dropped into a disused mine and is being used as an underground data centre.

The Blackbox can be configured to hold up to 250 Sun Fire servers or up to 3PB worth of storage. A single Blackbox can house 700 CPUs, hold up to 2,000 cores and provide 18,000 simultaneous processing threads, the company says.

Each of its 8 racks can hold 40 rack units of storage, with each rack consuming about 2.5kw of power. Customers are not tied to using Sun equipment --any hardware from a third party vendor can be installed provided it fits the physical requirements of the rack.

The only server the Blackbox does come with is a Sun server used to control the cooling and humidity. Most of the IP that has gone into the container is to do with the cooling process, Bennett said. Sun decided to go with water-cooling rather than air-cooling technology to dissipate heat from the processors, because the equipment would be tightly compacted into the shipping container and there would not have been enough space in and around the hardware for air to circulate.

On the outside, customers need to hook up the power, network cabling, and provide a supply of chilled water lines, essential in keeping the servers at the correct operating environment.

Additionally, the container is strengthened to ensure servers are not damaged in transit. The Blackbox containers are robust enough to withstand earthquakes of a magnitude of 6.7 on the Richter scale. They also have reinforcing that can sustain a shock of 9G-forces

"It is not just a container with a few computers put into it," said Bennett.

The container arrived in Australia by boat this week, but the containers can also be flown within the cargo holds of aeroplanes.

So far 12 Blackboxes have been made by Sun.

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